Last night, I joined 70 or so people, most dressed for geriatric prom—women with pancake breasts razzled up in sparkles and floral patterns, men in pressed suits and ties, one guy with a boutonniere—in a crowded back room of an Italian restaurant in Bellevue.
They were lured in by offers of a free meal and free financial advice. I was lured in by a free meal and a chance to corner Republican Dino Rossi, who announced his bid for Patty Murray's U.S. Senate seat three weeks ago. Since then, Rossi hasn't had the time to update his web page or talk in detail about his stance on national issues—Arizona's bigoted immigration laws, abortion, etc.—but he has carved out time for this series of free financial dinners. I'm here to see if he'll answer a few questions.
This is my first real estate seminar. It's a weird scene.
The evening starts with an Italian-style buffet of various breaded and fried foods—calamari rings, ravioli, zucchini—along with a Caesar salad and meat balls. I sit at a table of 10 between a Hawaiian shirt and a woman who has given birth to "a litter of eight." Her breasts could feed a lumberjack.
A suited man visits each table offering to give a complimentary review of our assets, saying that he can get our assets to work harder for us. I've got all my own teeth and I'm fertile—these are my assets. I also have two dogs but I don't think they're worth much. Not even for parts. The man asks our table if we're primarily investors or agents, while eying my flip flops and hooded sweatshirt. "I'm a single working mother!" I joke. "I would love it if you could make my assets work harder for me because I can't get them to do shit." They're waiting in the car, I say. He blinks. When I tell him that I'm really a journalist, he laughs awkwardly. The woman next to me—the one who gave birth to a litter of eight—appreciates my jokes. The look in her eyes tells me she would've traded a few of her kids off for a waterfront property if she could.
Clearly, I am the worst of what happens when you advertise free meals.
Rossi enters the room and starts his circuit of glad handing. One of the speakers gushes about how lucky we are to see Dino this evening, saying, "This is one of the last events he'll be doing before he focuses on the campaign."
When he gets to my table, I shake his hand, introduce myself, and ask if he'll answer a few questions. He says, "Not really but thanks for playing." His answer makes no sense so I say, "I like your hair. Can I get a picture with you?" He smiles and quickly walks away. I'm told pictures aren't allowed. A woman across the table from me says, "He does have very nice hair," and everyone smiles.
When he finally takes the microphone, Rossi's real estate pitch is a series of benign one-liners and mixed metaphors: "Ignore the naysayers out there, it's a good time to buy."
"Just put one foot in front of the other," he says, "You've got to have the guts to pull the trigger."
Then he talks about being a janitor and getting a dog. I don't know what to make of his speech. Neither do the other people at my table—a few have confused, if not encouraging, looks on their faces. By the end of Rossi's 10-minute pitch, I feel embarrassed for him. People often draw the comparison between politicians and salesmen—used car salesmen, door to door encyclopedia hacks, cult leaders—but I've never witnessed this stereotype so clearly illustrated. How can voters take this man seriously when he avoids addressing national issues by day and spends his evenings shilling at free real estate seminars for the wealthy?
If Rossi had been selling Bibles or vacuums, I would have bought one. Sadly, apartment complexes are a bit out of my price range, so I left with my assets still un-reviewed, my real estate portfolio still empty, and a lot of unanswered political questions remaining.